Random Thoughts on Life and Work

March 5, 2015

Stewarding the Mid-Level Donor

Most of us are well aware of the 80/20 rule of fundraising – 80% of your income will come from 20% of your donors. Major donor programs are built to focus on the 20% of donors who can and do supply that high level of giving. This is good. But how do you increase the number of donors that fit in that 20%?

The logic would lead us to understand that if you add a donor to the 20% group then that will increase the dollar amount that makes up the 80% of income. The goal of moves management in development is to move donors from their current involvement to a higher level involvement. However, the majority of your donors, those in the lower tier, will be resistant to moving. And in general, their annual giving is so low that it probably isn’t efficient to invest a lot of resources to move them up. Does that mean you ignore them? Certainly not. However, you also should not overly invest in efforts to increase their participation. But monitor them along the way and watch for natural movement.

8020DonorPyramidI would contend that there is an optimum zone of opportunity to move donors upwards into increased giving. Often referred to as mid-level donors, these donors are giving at high levels but not enough to be counted in that top tier. They are often overlooked as they fall between the major donors and the “direct mail” responders. If your organization provides opportunities to support specific program areas, these donors will likely take that opportunity rather than support the general fund. “Unknown” major donors will often test an organization by giving an initial gift that falls in this tier. They have heard good things about the organization and think they may want to support the mission at significant levels but want to make sure that the organization is capable of responding to them appropriately.

Larger organizations often have sophisticated donor groups (President’s Circle, Insider’s Round Table, etc) but smaller organizations can also gain from just a little bit of extra effort. Here are some simple steps you might consider to steward this group in particular:

  1. Watch for first time gifts that fall in this tier. Establish an acknowledgement process for that first gift that is similar to what you typically do for the top tier.
  2. Consider special insider reports that are different from that which major donors receive but are higher quality or more detailed than the standard direct mail or newsletter that the lower tier receives.
  3. If you have created recognition societies, consider an annual invite to upgrade their membership.
  4. Monitor this group in particular for lapsing donors. If their giving pattern changes, consider a special contact to re-engage them.
  5. Consider special planned giving/legacy giving communications to this group of donors, especially if you have donors who have given in this tier for a significant length of time.

Each of these are suggestions and are contextual to your organization in the sense that the giving levels for each organization may be significantly different. I have seen organizations that don’t quite match the 80/20 principle (they might be 80/10 or even 90/10) so you will also need to analyze your database to determine how many donors you have in each tier and how close your organization matches the 80/20 rule. Find the zone of opportunity within your particular organization.

If you have any questions about how to proceed with the analysis of your database or establishing a special program for acknowledging your mid-level donors, feel free to contact me and let’s start a dialog about how I can help.

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1 Comment »

  1. This is great Darren. I believe in the 80/20 rule and feel that is a great way to focus where I should spend my time. I have also spent time with some of our mid-level donors and seen their giving skyrocket because of engagement. One of the strategic ways I have engaged with some of these donors is right after a first time year end gift, and a year later they are giving at the major donor level.

    Another way that this could be done is through wealth screening…some people don’t believe in it, but it can work.

    Somebody needs to give you a job!

    Comment by Luke Roland — March 5, 2015 @ 11:29 am | Reply


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